What Does a Blood Clot Look Like?

Reviewed on 7/2/2021

Blood clots can form anywhere in the body, such as the leg, lung, brain, heart, and stomach or intestines. Blood clots may look red and swollen, or like a reddish or bluish skin discoloration. Other blood clots may not be visible in the skin.
Blood clots can form anywhere in the body, such as the leg, lung, brain, heart, and stomach or intestines. Blood clots may look red and swollen, or like a reddish or bluish skin discoloration. Other blood clots may not be visible in the skin.  

Blood clotting (coagulation) is a bodily process that prevents excessive bleeding when a blood vessel is injured. Platelets and proteins in the plasma form a clot over an injury. Problems occur when clots form inside veins or arteries, because they don’t always dissolve naturally and can block blood flow to important parts of the body. In some cases, this can be life-threatening. 

Blood clots can form anywhere in the body, for example: 

A blood clot in a leg or arm can look like redness and swelling. Blood clots may also look like reddish or bluish skin discoloration. Other blood clots may not be visible in the skin, and symptoms vary depending on the location of the clot.  

Symptoms of a blood clot in the leg or arm (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT) include:

  • Swelling, usually in one leg (or arm)
  • Pain or tenderness, or cramping feeling similar to a “Charley horse”
  • Reddish or bluish skin discoloration
  • Warm feeling around the area of the clot 

Symptoms of a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism, or PE) include:

  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • Chest pain-sharp, stabbing; may get worse with deep breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Unexplained cough, sometimes with bloody mucus

Symptoms of a blood clot in the brain (a stroke) include:

Symptoms of a blood clot in the heart, which can lead to a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain and pressure, or a squeezing feeling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness 
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweat
  • Anxiety

Symptoms of a blood clot in the stomach or intestines include:

  • Severe pain 
  • Swelling
  • Bloody stool
  • Vomiting

Blood clots are a medical emergency and some can be fatal. Call 911 or have someone drive you to a hospital’s emergency department immediately if you experience any symptoms of a blood clot.

What Causes a Blood Clot?

Blood clotting occurs when platelets and proteins in the plasma form a clot over an injury. Problems occur when clots form inside veins and block blood flow to important parts of the body. Risk factors for blood clots include:  

  • Recent surgery or hospitalization 
  • Major surgery, particularly of the pelvis, abdomen, hip, or knee
  • Severe trauma, such as a car accident
  • Injury to a vein caused by a broken bone or severe muscle injury
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Smoking
  • Use of hormonal contraception that contains estrogen, such as the pill, patch, or ring
  • Use of hormone therapy, which contains estrogen
  • Previous blood clots
  • Family history of blood clots
  • Certain protein deficiencies
  • Pregnancy or recent childbirth
  • Inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancer and cancer treatments
  • Being confined to a bed or wheelchair
  • Prolonged sitting, especially with legs crossed
  • Age 55 or older
  • Chronic diseases such as heart and lung diseases or diabetes

How Is a Blood Clot Diagnosed?

Blood clots are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination and tests such as:


 

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What Is the Treatment for a Blood Clot?

Treatment and prevention of blood clots mainly involves the use of anticoagulants (also called “blood thinners”).

Blood thinners may be administered in the hospital, and they may also be prescribed for home use in patients who are at high risk of developing blood clots. Home treatment with blood thinners may last for weeks, months, or years following hospitalization to prevent clots from returning.

Commonly prescribed anticoagulants include: 

Other treatments for blood clots may include: 

  • Compression stockings
  • Thrombolytic therapy
  • Mechanical thrombectomy
  • Vena cava filters

What Are Complications of a Blood Clot?

Blood clots can be fatal if not treated. Complications of blood clots include: 

  • Chronic venous insufficiency
    • Swelling
    • Skin discoloration
    • Ulcers 
    • Varicose veins
    • Skin pigmentation 
    • Aching
    • Tenderness 
    • Heaviness in the legs
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack 
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Kidney failure
  • Pregnancy complications 
  • Death

How Do You Prevent a Blood Clot?

For people who are at higher risk of blood clot formation, there are ways to help reduce the risk of clots. 

  • Exercise regularly
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration 
  • Lose weight if overweight
  • Wear compression stockings 
  • Don’t sit for long periods – get up and take breaks and move around
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol, which can be dehydrating
  • Don’t smoke

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Reviewed on 7/2/2021
References
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-clots/

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/blood-clots https://www.stroke.org/